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Laying Him Bare From Thigh To Neck. Good Friday–Tenebrae. March 30, 2018

Good Friday—Tenebrae (7pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 2:8-3:9; Hebrews 4: 16-5:10; Habakkuk 3:1-12jesus crucifixion grunewald isenheim.PNG

March 30, 2018

“Laying Him Bare from Thigh To Neck”

 

Iesu Iuva

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.  They say to their mothers, “Where is corn and wine?”  When they swooned in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mother’s bosom.  Lamentations 2:11-12

 

It’s good this is in King James English.  Otherwise we might all be crying as we hear Jeremiah’s lament.

 

The prophet is sick as he looks at what is going to happen to the daughter of his people, Jerusalem.  My liver is poured out on the earth.  He vomits as he watches, until nothing is left except bile coming out of his mouth.  He sees children and babies dying of hunger during the siege of Jerusalem.  Babies die on their mother’s breasts because their mothers can no longer produce milk.  And little children say to their mothers, “Why is there no food?  What happened to all the corn and wine we used to have?”  Anyone with children can imagine what it would be like to try to answer this question from their small children who are too young to understand.  And watch them fade with hunger, and finally faint in the streets from it, and die.

 

This has probably happened to people in my lifetime thousands, millions of times, in places ravaged by war.

 

It just has never happened to us.  Just like it hadn’t happened to Jeremiah’s people, to the nation that was in a covenant with God.  But finally in Jeremiah’s day, all their years of forsaking that covenant with God caught up with them.  Jerusalem was destroyed.  The temple was destroyed.  Children died.  Those who didn’t die were taken in chains to Babylon.

 

What happened then is going to happen again.  As judgment came upon Judah, so it will come on the whole world for all its centuries of casting aside God’s Law and ignoring the Gospel of His Son.  And the hunger, the chains, the death that will come will not last for seventy years.

 

That’s why Jesus told the women who followed Him as He carried His cross to Golgotha: Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but for yourselves and your children!  For the time is coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’

 

What our Lord says is true, but it is so painful that we cannot bear to think about it.  It would be better to never be born than to be damned, better to never have a child than for that child to be lost forever.  Yet that is the road most people are on.  Can’t we see it?

 

And even before the last judgment, the years leading up to it will make people wish they had never been born.  There will not only be physical suffering and a famine of bread, but a spiritual famine that will make the eyes of Christians fail with tears and pour their livers on the earth.  People will starve because they will not be able to find the bread of God’s Word.  The walls of Jerusalem will be broken down, and the hosts of the devil will pour in with their glinting weapons, with teachings that destroy souls.

 

And these days are already upon us.  Can’t we see it?  Those of us with children, grandchildren.  Do we have tears in our eyes as we see the gaping holes in the walls of the church and the demons howling through the gap?  How few of them will remain in the church a few decades from now?  And those who remain—where will they go to have their babies baptized, to receive the body and blood of the Lord, to hear the pure, saving word of God?  Will they have to drive hours?  Will they have to choose between going to a church with corrupt teaching and worshipping God in their homes?

 

This is where our world is.  If we had hearts that were not mostly dead, we would cry like Jeremiah, be sick like Jeremiah.  Yet neither you nor I feel much.

 

It is too much to bear, and we have so little faith that we do not pray about it very often or for very long.  So we turn on the television, fire up the internet, get busy with this and with that, and get numb.

 

Another prophet about the same time as Jeremiah, Habakkuk, had a different reaction.  He did not weep.  He prayed and asked God to renew the work of vengeance He had done in the Exodus in his own day.  We will be singing Habakkuk’s prayer shortly.

 

And God gave Habakkuk a vision of the day when He would answer his prayer.  God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran…His brightness was like the light; rays flashed from His hand; and there He veiled His power.  Before Him went pestilence, and plague followed at his heels.  He stood and measured the earth.  He looked and scattered the nations…The sun and the moon stood still in their place at the light of your arrows as they sped, at the flash of your glittering spear…You went out for the salvation of your people, for the salvation of your anointed.  You crushed the head of the wicked, laying him bare from thigh to neck.

 

Oh, that would be wonderful, would it not?  To see our God come out to save us with His unspeakable power, and destroy those who are destroying us?

 

Do you realize that that is what Jesus did today?

 

The compassion of Jeremiah that is lacking in us is not lacking in Jesus.  He went out for the salvation of His people to Calvary to be brutally killed.  Because though the daughters of Jerusalem were not weeping for themselves and for their children, He was.  He did.

 

Jesus our Lord sees very clearly what is in store for you and your children and your neighbors because of your sins.  He not only sees it.  He feels the agony of the hell that opens its mouth to swallow you, the agony ahead of the unrepentant, from which you and I hide our faces.

 

What Jeremiah said about himself in the 3rd chapter of his Lamentations was fulfilled in Jesus:

 

I am the man that hath seen affliction and the rod of His wrath.  Surely against me is He turned; He turneth His hand against me all the day… He hath hedged me about that I cannot get out, and made my chain heavy.  Also when I cry and shout, He shutteth out my prayer.  He hath enclosed my ways with hewn stone…

 

Paul says to you who believe in Jesus: As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.  For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you…was not Yes and No, but in Him it is always Yes.  (2 Cor. 1)

 

In Jesus God says yes to us and holds nothing back from us of His grace, love, riches, glory.

 

But when Jesus prayed to His Father in Gethsemane, God’s answer was “No.”  No, Jesus could not escape the judgment of God, the hell of our sins.  Until, with the sun gone black, Jesus screamed from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”  God shut out Jesus’ prayer.  He closed Jesus in, not merely with mockers and enemies, but with our sins and their unending punishment.  He could not get out.  The heavy chain of our sins that sinks us down to hell was fastened on Him.  Until He died and was enclosed with the hewn stone of the tomb.

 

He was the man. Pilate brought Him out to the crowd covered with blood, bruises, spit, with a reed, a robe, a crown of thorns.  “Behold the man,” Pilate said.

 

Behold the man who has seen affliction and the rod of God’s wrath, and removed that rod from your back forever.

 

For God appointed Him a great high priest after the order of Melchizedek.  He was appointed to be priest not because he was born in a priestly family or because he went to school, but because of the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.  He is the king of righteousness.  His righteousness makes Him a priest who lives forever, able to reconcile you to God once and for all, to settle with Him for you.

 

So the author of Hebrews tells us that we should boldly, confidently come near the throne of grace to receive from the one who presides over that throne grace and mercy in our time of need—for ourselves, children, and neighbors.

 

We should not let ourselves shrink from facing the terrible plight of the people around us who are on the way to hell, or timidly draw back because of the terrible coldness of our hearts, but boldly go and lay before Him our hearts and the lost ones we cannot save ourselves.

 

You do not have a high priest unable to sympathize with your weaknesses, but one who was tempted with them all.  Even more, who was condemned for the temptations you gave in to.  He plunged into the endless death, the bottomless pit of condemnation that belongs to your sins and those of your unrepentant family and neighbors.  Do you think he doesn’t care about them, that he won’t hear you when you plead for them?

 

Do not think that.  Don not believe it.  Rejoice in the privilege you have been given.  You have a great high priest who not only offered a sacrifice that removes your sins, but gave Himself to be the sacrifice.

 

When He did that the might of the Lord Habakkuk saw in His vision was at work.  His power was veiled on the cross, but there He became the plague and pestilence of hell.  He shook the earth with His death and it gave up its dead.  The sun stood still and was darkened at the flash of His spear as in fury He crushed the head of the wicked one, laying him open from thigh to neck.

 

When He went out to Golgotha under His cross He went out for the salvation of His people, for your salvation.  And what He set out to do in omnipotent might He performed.

 

Hear His cry from the cross, the cry of victory—your victory cry.  “It is finished!”

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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When I am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men to Myself. Good Friday, Chief Service, 2018. John 18:31-32

jesus crucifixion de ribera.PNGGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (18:31-32, 19:33-37)

March 30, 2018

“When I Am Lifted Up, I Will Draw All Men To Myself”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of Jesus.

 

Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and judge Him according to your own law.”  The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.”  This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 18:31-32

 

By what kind of death He was going to die.

 

St. John draws our attention to the kind of death Jesus was going to die.

 

He was going to die by the form of execution the Roman world considered the worst—crucifixion.

 

And John draws our attention also to the fact that Jesus had said beforehand that He would die this kind of death.  That God had planned it out beforehand.

 

In chapter 12, the Gospel for Monday of Holy Week, Jesus said, Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.  He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.  John 12:31-33

 

Jesus was going to be lifted up.  Not fly away into heaven, away from all the pain and ugliness down here, but be nailed to a tree and lifted up as the very image of all the evil of this world.

 

Our natural response to John’s words about the kind of death Jesus was going to die is to say, “So what?”  We’ve all known since Sunday School that Jesus died on the cross.  Why draw attention to it?

 

The Holy Spirit is impressing on us the offense of the message about Jesus, the craziness of the Gospel.

 

For John’s hearers and readers in the first century of our Lord, and for centuries after, the message of the Gospel was madness.  For Romans and Greeks who believed in the old gods it was insane that Christians preached that the Son of the One True God was crucified.  For the fundamental characteristic of pagan gods was that they were immortal and could not die.  And for the philosophers who believed in one God the message of the cross was crazy because reason told them that the Creator, being eternal and omnipotent, could not suffer.

 

For the Jews, it was unthinkable that God would be crucified, because the Scripture says that people who are hanged on a tree are cursed by God.  And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God.  Deut. 21:22-23

 

And if we lived then and saw the horrible suffering and shame of people who were crucified, it would not take much faith to believe that they were cursed by God.  They were usually pierced through their hands and feet after being flogged and made to carry the beam of their cross to the place of execution.  When they were lifted up, they died slowly, often taking several days to finally die from suffocation.  They were usually crucified in public places, where their last agonies could be watched.  When they died, they typically were left on the crosses to rot and be eaten by vultures and crows.

 

People did not sympathize with those who were crucified.  Many were glad for the peace and order the Roman rule provided, and they supported the Romans making examples out of those who threatened that order.  Crucified people were considered bad people who deserved their death, people whom God had cursed.

 

So when the apostles went out and preached that a manual laborer from out of the way Galilee, who was crucified was the Son of God and the world’s Redeemer, it was mostly received as insane folly.  When Paul wrote in first Corinthians the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, he was speaking from years of experience as a missionary, where his message encountered rejection upon rejection.

 

Today, the word of the Cross is not as strange to us or the people we live among.  It has been preached and pictured in Europe and America’s literature, art, music for more than a thousand years.  It is not strange, but it is still crazy to us when you scratch the surface.  People do not react to it because for the most part they do not take it seriously.  It’s just religious talk, even to many people who go to church.

 

But you see in the popular preachers of today that the message of the cross is still considered ineffective.  And when a church wants to, like Paul, know nothing..but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the feeling that this is craziness begins to rear its head.  At the grave of my half-brother’s mother, one of the pall bearers talking to me about his church told me, “What is killing churches like yours is a lack of marketing.”  This is a common idea.

 

But it does not appear to be Jesus’ idea.  Now is the judgment of this world.  Now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.

 

By this craziness of God being lifted up to die, accursed, on a tree, Jesus says that He will cast out the devil, judge the world, and draw all men to Himself.

 

According to our wisdom, that is simply insane.

 

And yet, Jesus lifted up to hang from the tree, that message brought down the worship of the old gods in Rome.  Then in northern Europe, Russia.  Then in America.  It is doing the same now in Africa and in Asia.

 

And even if few seem to be listening to this word of the cross today, let us hear it and take it to heart.

 

John also makes a point of drawing attention to the reality of Jesus’ death, how he witnessed Jesus’ side pierced with a spear and the outflow of water and blood from His heart.

 

He is drawing our attention to the fact that Jesus really and truly died; He was not simply passed out from shock or something like that.  He was dead.  As really as our loved ones are dead when we go up and stare into their faces at their wake.

 

God was dead, just as God was cursed and put to shame, just as God was condemned.  And Jesus had said before that this would happen, because it had been God’s plan before the foundation of the world.

 

It was God’s plan for you, who face condemnation and judgment and shame for your sins before the court of God.  And for you whose loved ones die, and who are facing death.

 

God had planned long ago that His Son would be put to shame and cursed and would suffer so that you would be released from the curse you were under and the shame that belongs to you.

 

God planned that His eternal, undying Son would be lifted up and die for you.

 

And in doing so He would bring you to Himself and back to God, without curse, without shame, free from eternal death.

 

The spear that pierced His heart let loose the sign that you are free and that the ruler of this world no longer has any power over you.  Water.  Blood.

 

These streams that flowed out as proof of Jesus death flow to you as God’s pledges that you live.

 

The water flows from Jesus’ death over you in Baptism and cleanses you from sin.  It flows over you and begins your new life.

 

The blood flows from Jesus’ body into the cup that you drink, where Jesus seals to you with His own blood that the folly of the death of God, this unspeakable kind of death on the cross, has given you life.

 

And for all who receive these pledges in faith, now is the judgment of this world, and they are judged righteous, acquitted.  Now the prince of this world is cast out from them, and the prince of heaven reigns in their hearts.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

 

SDG

 

 

Died and Was Buried. Good Friday Tenebrae 2017. Psalm 88, John 19:38-42

deposition raphaelGood Friday Tenebrae (7 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Psalm 88:8-14 (John 19:38-42)

April 14, 2017

“Died and was Buried”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape; my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O Lord; I spread out my hands to you.

Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?

Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?

Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of

forgetfulness?

 

But I, O Lord, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me?

(Ps. 88:8-14)

 

Around this time on that Friday almost two thousand years ago, Jesus was buried.  Imagine.  Someone had to climb up on the ladder and remove the nails from Jesus’ hands or wrists.  As that man did so, He would have had to look into Jesus’ face.  It would have been covered with blood from His wounds, covered with bruises.

 

After the nails were removed, Nicodemus and Joseph would have carried Jesus.  Maybe they washed His body before they wrapped it in the linen sheet with the seventy-five pounds spices, myrrh and aloes.

 

They buried Jesus quickly and rolled a large stone in front of the door to the tomb.

 

And just like at our funerals, it seemed like it was all over.  All that was left was loss.

 

We know that death is the way of this world.  That doesn’t help it become easier when your mother dies, when your child dies.  It doesn’t help that everyone dies when you are lying in the ICU in pain, dying, or sitting in the nursing home, wondering when death will come.  If you have been sick and in pain for a long time, you may accept death simply because life has been too painful.  But otherwise, we don’t want to die.  We think of what else we wanted to do in this world.

 

When death comes we feel attacked, blindsided.  We are right about being attacked, at least partly.  Death doesn’t just happen, the way rust happens.  Death comes from God.  It is—judgment.

 

Many of the readings and Psalms tonight express this thought of being attacked by God.  King Hezekiah, suddenly dying, says of God, Like a lion He breaks all my bones; from day to night you bring me to an end (Is. 38:13).  Jeremiah mourns over the destruction of Jerusalem, which has happened because God is punishing them for rejecting Him as their God.  God is using the foreign enemies as His rod.  Our pursuers are at our necks, says Jeremiah; we are weary and given no rest (v. 5).    And the Psalm I quoted, Psalm 88, which we will sing in a moment, says, O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?  Why do you hide your face from me? (Ps. 88:14)

 

Those words remind us that the subject of the Scriptures, both old and New, is Jesus Christ.  In them we can hear the echo of Jesus’ fourth word from the cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?

 

Jeremiah’s people were forsaken by God because of their unfaithfulness; they were cast away because they cast God away.  And the same thing could be said of everyone whom God casts away, everyone He attacks, everyone He slays.  Hezekiah was one of the good kings, and there weren’t many.  The writer of Psalm 88 was Heman the Ezrahite, who was a grandson of Samuel the prophet, and was a prophet himself.  Yet Hezekiah was a sinner; so was Heman the prophet, and so was Samuel, his father.  Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you, says another Psalmist to God (143:2).

 

Yet God does enter into judgment with us, or so it seems.  He casts us down and puts our mouths in the dust.  We are struck with illness and the sentence of death.  Our congregation becomes like Jeremiah’s Jerusalem: How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed!  The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street…the tongue of the nursing infant sticks to the roof of its mouth for thirst (Lam. 4:1, 4)…Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!  Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners (Lam. 5:1-2).  The families that once were members of this congregation are now the parishioners of congregations where the body and blood of Christ is not confessed, churches where infants are not baptized, or members of no churches at all.  And those that are left no longer grow up in the house of God or are taught the Word.  The day is drawing near, it appears, when there will no longer be Good Friday services here in this Church.

 

When we think about this, how do we not feel that God is striking us, attacking us because He is displeased with us?  And like Hezekiah, Heman, or Jerusalem, are we righteous before Him that He should not judge us?

 

Let God be true and every man a liar, as St. Paul says.  Or with the thief on the cross, let us say: We are getting the due reward of our deeds.

 

Then let us look away from our suffering, like the thief did, to Jesus.  This man has done nothing wrong.  There was no deceit in His mouth.  He never displeased His Father.  He never spoke lies.  He is the man Psalm 24 speaks about:

 

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?  And who shall stand in His holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up His soul to what is false, and does not swear deceitfully.  He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of His salvation.  (Ps 24:3-5)

 

Jesus’ hands are clean and so are His lips.  His heart is pure.  Even crucified, in great agony, as He is attacked by the Father and His soul is cast away, He says, “My God!”  He trusts God not to forsake Him.  He commits His soul, dying, into His Father’s hands.

 

Jesus is forsaken by God, attacked in His wrath, humiliated before His foes, brought about before bloodied, spit upon, dressed like a king.  The Father gives Him into their hands, and allows them to have their way with Him, to crucify Him, to make Him die on a tree, of which the Law says, Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.  He does not intervene to save His Son from receiving a portion with all sinners in death.

 

We come around again to Joseph and Nicodemus burying Jesus, and sealing the tomb.

 

You know why Jesus is ambushed and attacked by God.  It is for you, to win God’s favor and grace for you.  Even while God casts Him away like an unclean thing, Jesus goes on trusting His Father.  He breathes out His soul in death and His last words are “Into your hands I commit my Spirit.”  How thoroughly He trusts His Father with all that He is, even when His Father seems to hate Him, seems to not know Him!  Makes Him suffer!

 

How pleased the Father is with His Son’s trust and obedience!  How much He loves it!

 

He loves it so much that He is pleased with you and all who believe in His Son, believes that through His Son’s obedience He will be gracious to them!

 

We deserve suffering and death because of our sins.  But God doesn’t give it to us because He hates us in His wrath and we are getting what we deserve.  The Father no longer recognizes the sins of anyone who believes in Jesus Christ.  The Father is not stupid or kidding Himself.  He knows our sins, but He also knows the ransom His Son paid to release us from God’s wrath against our sins.  He will not lie or go back on His Word.  It is, as the readings from Hebrews will soon say, Jesus’ last will and testament.  It can’t be altered, and God is not a liar.  He will not impute sin, count sin, to anyone who believes that Jesus has made payment for his sins.  That means you, even with your weak faith.

 

Instead, He imputes His Son’s pure heart, His perfect, unfaltering trust, His holy obedience even to death, to all who believe in Jesus. That is His unfailing promise in your baptism, and in the Holy supper of His body and blood.

 

When we die and are attacked by God (so it seems), we are not being brought into judgment, dealing with a God who is going to destroy us in His wrath and never build us up again.

 

We are dealing with a God who counts us to have clean hands and a pure heart, who says of us, He will receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of our salvation. 

 

We are dealing with the God who desires to build us up, to raise us again; that is why Hezekiah sang O Lord, by these things men live, and in all these is the life of my spirit…behold, it was for my welfare that I had great bitterness, but in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.

 

Today He cast our sins behind our back.  Jesus said, It is finished.

 

Psalm 88 asks: Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the departed rise up to praise you?  Is Your steadfast love declared in the grave, or Your faithfulness in Abaddon (that is, destruction?) 

 

The answer is: yes.  For today God’s beloved Son joins us in the tomb, among the dead, making it holy, a place of rest.  When we lie down as Christians, we go with Jesus, who remains the eternal God, whose battle has ended, whose righteousness and victory will be revealed in us.

 

Amen

 

SDG

Good Friday, Chief Service 2017. Why is This Friday Good?

crucifixion grunewaldGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)

April 14, 2017

Why is this Friday “Good”?

 

Iesu Iuva

 

My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’?  It doesn’t seem good.”  We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy.  It indeed does not seem good.  When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good.  The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good.  Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death.  Sin brings God’s anger and punishment.  God will not leave sin unpunished.

 

The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it.  It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”

 

Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word.  Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.”  He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost.  He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”

 

On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.

  1. It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
  2. But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.

 

1.

 

The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news.  There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17).  There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds.  Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.

 

Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news.  The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in.  A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.

 

The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not.  But most people do not.  There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them.  It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them.  Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.

 

That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”.  It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.

 

A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God.  The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law.  This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible.  When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God.  You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them.  You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul.  The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You.  The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men.  (v. 4-6)  Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?

 

Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin.  Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.

 

But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us.  Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples.  Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours.  We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians.  We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.

 

In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us.  The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t.  The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.

 

This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it.  Such a person feels forsaken by God.

 

But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news.  A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God.  But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God.  And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.

 

And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this.  Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin.  The result was that He was immortal.  He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.

 

Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die.  We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God.  We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.

 

We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross.  Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light.  He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.”  And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid.  It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross.  It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death.  It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.

 

When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst.  He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful.  But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment.  Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son.  He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us.  It had to be drained to the bottom.

 

2.

 

All that is very bad news.  If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.

 

But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?

 

This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:

 

We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.

 

Our sins must be “put away”.  We must be “released” from them.  Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.

This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today.  He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.

 

When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.

 

When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.

 

He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.

 

Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse.  He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched.  God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us.  He is reconciled to us and at peace.  “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”

 

That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)

 

Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God.  Not as a fiction, a lie.  But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.

 

“It is finished,” says Jesus.  What is finished?  The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins.  It is finished.  Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.

 

Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel.  This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.

 

It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one.  Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst.  That water does not come from nowhere.  It comes from Jesus’ death.

 

 

Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace.  Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution.  Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.

 

Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.

 

This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.

 

So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day.  Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall.  Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.

 

Amen

 

SDG

The Preparation of God’s Sons. Good Friday, Chief Service. 2016

grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (in particular: John 19:13-16)

March 25, 2016

“The Preparation of God’s Sons”

Iesu Iuva

 

It is amazing, in a way, that you came to church today.

 

It was bold. We show boldness in being here. Hopefully it isn’t a boldness born of arrogance or foolishness.

 

Look around. The church is bare and naked of decoration. The only thing we see is the cross. It is because Jesus, the Son of God, was stripped of glory and dignity on Good Friday that the church looks like a desert, all its ornaments taken away. Yes, God’s Son was stripped naked and nailed hand and foot to the tree; raised up to hang as a spectacle before the world for a few hours, and then to die.

 

Yet we are bold enough to come and commemorate what happened to Jesus. But don’t we know? Don’t we understand? Jesus suffered because of us. He was put to death because of us.

 

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of the Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered Him over to them to be crucified.” (St. John 19:13-16)

 

Pontius sits down in the judgment seat to give a verdict concerning Jesus. And John makes sure to tell us right after Pilate assuming his role as judge that it was “the day of Preparation of the Passover.” People disagree about what this means. Jesus had already celebrated the Passover the night before. But one thing is sure—Jesus was being prepared to die as the true Passover lamb. Pilate was moments away from issuing the sentence that Jesus should be crucified. But who was preparing Jesus, setting Him apart, for sacrifice? It appears to be the crowd of the Jews, acting through Pilate as their instrument. But it couldn’t have been them. They weren’t strong enough to tie Jesus up and set Him apart as a sacrificial victim, nor to slaughter God’s Son like a lamb. It is God the Father who is preparing Jesus for sacrifice; God the Father is preparing to slaughter His Son.

 

Long before, God put a picture of this day in front of the Israelites. It is written in Genesis 22: “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” (Gen. 22:1-2)

 

Then we are told in the rest of the story how Abraham set about to obey this commandment from God to slay his only son. Abraham doesn’t delay. He gets up early in the morning, cuts the wood on which he will burn the body of his son as a sacrifice. Then he journeys for three days to get to the place of the sacrifice, allowing plenty of time to reconsider whether he really wants to go through with this, whether he really thinks God is worthy of such a sacrifice. But Abraham, amazingly, doesn’t waver. He gets to the land of Moriah and loads the wood on Isaac his son, and leads the young man up the mountain. Finally, Abraham builds the altar. He arranges the wood on it. He binds Isaac and stretches him out on top of the wood. Finally, he takes the knife in his hand to kill his son. Only at the last moment the angel of the Lord interrupts the sacrifice.

 

Many people who have heard this story and taken it seriously have been revolted by it, said it paints an ugly picture of the God of the Bible. Even though God stopped Abraham from killing his son, what kind of God, they say, would ask that of a person, and then allow the person almost to go through with it? Abraham didn’t bring the knife down on Isaac. But in order to get as far as he did, Abraham would have had to have already made up his mind to spill the blood of his only son.

 

Thinking of killing your son—whether for God or for anyone else—is too much for us. Most people would be angry and spit at God if He demanded such a thing. Others, who might admit that God, as God, has a right to demand such a thing, would still find themselves too weak to do it, too weak even to go about the preparations for it, as Abraham did. They would find themselves unable to cut the wood, to journey to the mountain, to build the altar, prepare the wood, certainly to bind their son. Even talking about it or spending any time thinking about it makes you realize that God is nothing like the sentimental picture most people paint of Him. How many people who say they love God would vigorously hate Him if He spoke to them and commanded this? Even if we wanted to, most of us would not get through the preparations. Before our eyes the whole time would be our son’s pain and cries. We would visualize his bright red blood streaming at our hands and we would be undone.

 

But what God did not allow Abraham to do—to slay his son out of love and obedience to God—God did out of love and compassion for the world. For an unworthy world that hated Him. He foresaw His Son’s anguish, He foresaw His Son’s pouring blood, His cries and His tears.

 

And still He prepared His Son to be sacrificed. He tied Him up by the hands of the Jews. He condemned Him to die on a tree under His curse and wrath, through Pontius Pilate. He drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet and stretched Him out over the rough wood of the tree through the hands of the soldiers. And He lifted Him up to be cursed; to receive not merely bodily torment and physical death, but also the spiritual anguish that sinners deserve to suffer throughout eternity.

 

[We will sing the words of Paul Gerhardt in a few minutes, words which we have sung many times before, and yet likely not taken to heart—words that Gerhardt puts into the mouth of the Father:

 

“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,

“And free my children from their dread

Of guilt and condemnation.

The wrath and stripes are hard to bear

But by Your Passion they will share

The fruit of Your salvation.” LSB 438, st. 2

 

Yes, imagine telling your son, “Go forth and be flogged and crucified to help people who despise and hate us”! ]

 

This is what God the Father was doing on Good Friday. And why? Not because Jesus ever displeased Him. No, the Father loves His Son far more than we evil men love our sons. And Jesus loved His Father and never did anything against Him. The Father was preparing His Son to die for your sins.

 

That’s why it is bold for us to show up here today. The Father offers up His Son; and we, for whom the Son of God was offered come to commemorate His dying. Do we dare?

 

Aren’t we the same people who have repeatedly chosen to do evil, to “turn, every one, to his own way”? (Is. 53) Haven’t we often freely chosen to do what called God’s anger down upon us? But God poured this anger on His Son. And we come, with little sense of what it cost the Father to do this, with little awareness of what Jesus endured, and quite often, with little desire to know. We come for an hour or so today to pay our respects, and then return to live as if we were rightful masters of our own lives?

 

And aren’t we the same people who, when backed into a corner, repeatedly excuse our sins and the sins of other people?

 

Perhaps we are those who think, “Why should God be so angry about sin? What kind of cruel God is this, to demand an eternal repayment for sin in hell?

 

Or perhaps we believe that God will punish sins in hell, but certainly not the sins we commit in weakness—our evil thoughts, impurity, our anger, our difficulty forgiving people. Why should God demand an eternal accounting for things like this, which no one can avoid?

 

And aren’t we also the same people who have often denied that our sin—or those of people we love—was actually sin? Aren’t we the same people who have called evil good?

 

So God says, “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” But we say, surely it’s not such a big deal when a church teaches errors in God’s name, when they do it because they don’t know better. Surely God doesn’t take it so seriously if the church down the street doesn’t believe and doesn’t teach that the Lord’s Supper is really Jesus’ body and blood.

 

Or God says, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy.” But we say, surely God doesn’t care that much about the fact that I get busy and don’t come to church.

 

Or we say, “Surely God doesn’t really get so angry about who I sleep with, or who my kids sleep with—not so angry that He would punish them for it forever.”

 

We say these things, and then we want to come and remember Jesus’ death, and the Father preparing His Son to be sacrificed? When we try to excuse the very things for which the Father allowed His Son’s blood to pour?

 

That is the same as the Jews choosing Barabbas over Jesus. They chose a lawless man, a violent man who had participated in a rebellion and shed blood, over Jesus. They asked for Barabbas to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified.

 

Why did they do this? Because they were more comfortable with a lawless man, even if he was violent and dangerous, than with Jesus, the righteous and just One.

 

We have done the same as the crowd. In excusing our sins, and minimizing them, we are trying to shout Jesus down. We demand that the Righteous One be silent; we demand Him to be taken away from our sight so that His innocence no longer stands before us as a rebuke to our lawlessness. [And the more Jesus suffers unjustly, the louder the mob screams for Him to die, so that they may no longer have His witness to the truth and see Him reflecting back, in His body, the image of our sin.]

 

But even if we don’t excuse our sins, and our mouths are silent, it remains the case that we are the reason the Father set apart His innocent Son to die.

 

So how can we be so bold as to come near to the Father on the day in which His Son was slain?

 

We come because God the Father has given us the right to approach Him with boldness and confidence.

 

He slew His obedient Son for our disobedience because He wanted to give us the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

 

When the Father prepared Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, He was carrying out what His wisdom and love toward us had planned before the creation of the world. Before the world began God saw Adam’s sin and also yours. None of it was hidden from Him. But instead of never creating You, or planning your death in His anger, He planned an unthinkable thing—to have His beloved Son take your place as an enemy of God, and to give you Jesus’ place as a well-beloved Son in eternity.

 

Why would God do such a thing? It is incomprehensible that He should show such love to us.

 

But that is, beyond any doubt, what God has done. In the death of Jesus, His Son, the Father has given you the right to approach Him without fear, without any stain of sin, as a pure, holy, well-pleasing, beloved child. As a lawful heir of God and all His eternal glory.

 

And not only did the Father will this grace for you, but also the Son. The Son and the Father are one (John 10); they will one will. The Father and the Son together willed our justification.

 

Because the Son willed this, He willingly came and put on our image.

 

He is mocked for us, who deserve mockery for our pretensions to be God, to be equal to God, the eternal King.

 

He is beaten and flogged; chastised, as Isaiah said, for our disobedience to God. Upon Him was the chastisement (or punishment) that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53)

 

He puts on Adam’s curse as His crown. Blood streams from His sacred head down His face, drawn by the thorns that began to come out of the earth because Adam turned aside from God. Now Adam’s curse sits on the head of the Son of God.

 

He is condemned to die among wicked men. The innocent Christ is crucified between two robbers, men whom even an evil world rejects as too evil for it.

 

He is stripped naked to bear the shame we have been trying to hide since Adam and Eve clothed themselves with leaves and hid among the trees. Jesus is stripped of all coverings and lifted up before the whole world.

 

He is nailed to a cross, which the Romans view as so shameful that it is forbidden to apply it to citizens. And He is lifted up on a tree to die, which according to the Law means that Jesus is cursed by God, because it says “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Leviticus ?, Galatians 3). Dying under God’s curse, Jesus removes His curse and damnation from us.

 

Though He is God, He comes in the appearance of a man like us, like one who is subject to death and enslaved by sin. He comes in our fashion to free us from slavery. He removes sin’s bondage from us by suffering for it and cancelling it out with His blood. Thus we are freed from slavery to sin and its condemnation. We are liberated from the devil, who held us in thrall through His blackmail and accusation. We are sprung from our chains into the glorious liberty of the children of God, to live before God forever free from condemnation.

 

Today the altar is bare; no paraments, no lights, no banners. That barrenness is really our image; we are barren of the glory God created us to have—His image. We lost it through sin. When we see Jesus crucified, covered with wounds, His face streaked with blood, forsaken by God we see Him bearing our image, so that we might bear the image of His glory in eternity.

 

And when Jesus has accomplished this and been emptied—when He has become sin for us, become a slave for us, received God’s wrath for us, He says “It is finished,” and dies.

 

It is finished. It is done. Everything is accomplished for us to be received as sons of God. Nothing remains outstanding. Every sin is punished and blotted out of God’s book. In its place Jesus gives us the seamless, undivided robe of His righteousness.

 

No one takes away Jesus’ life. He freely gives it up. When His life ends, ours begins—our new life as God’s Sons.

 

By His death, Jesus gives us the right to approach God with confidence as if we were Him, as dear, innocent, beloved sons of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)—so said our Lord to His disciples before He suffered. By His death Jesus bore the fruit of many sons of God. Before He died our sins blocked the way to God; when He died, those sins were removed.

 

So we dare to come before God with boldness on the day of His Son’s death, without fear. For Jesus who died for us has baptized us into His body, so that we are members of Him, of His flesh and of His bone. Trusting in Jesus and in the Father who prepared Him as the sacrifice for us, we come to the Father as His true sons. And in thanksgiving for all He has done we offer to Him our bodies as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12).

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Perfected. Good Friday, Tenebrae. 2016

tissot-i-thirst-vinegar-given-to-jesus-547x741Good Friday—Tenebrae (7 pm)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 19:28-30 (Lamentations 2:13-15; Hebrews 10:1-2. 10-18)

March 25, 2016

“Perfected”

Iesu Iuva

 

No one ever thinks destruction is going to come until it does. Till the end people keep believing that the good times will go on forever; at least the days of terror will pass them by. We all secretly believe we’re special.

 

Nevertheless, God warns us with clear and certain words that destruction is coming to the world because of sin. He tells us clearly and unmistakably—He never, never, never will overlook sin or let sinners go unpunished.

 

“He will render to each one according to his works…for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil…” God says in Romans chapter 2 (v. 6-9).

 

And as the children have learned from the catechism, God says regarding the ten commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation of those who hate Me…”

 

Which means if you want to disobey God’s commandments, if you want to excuse your disobedience to God—not matter what that disobedience is, no matter how minor you think it is—you can’t tell yourself that God will forgive you anyway. You’re only kidding yourself.

 

The two sets of readings we heard are examples of this. In the first we saw Jesus, the Son of God, stretched out on the cross, giving up His spirit. Destruction comes upon Him as God visits our iniquities upon Him.

 

The first set, from Lamentations, are the prophet Jeremiah’s words as he weeps over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, about 500 years before Christ. God told the people of Israel before they entered the promised land that if they did not keep His commandments, God would not only not be their God and abandon them to their enemies. He would actively turn against them Himself and set Himself against them. As He had once looked on them to bless them and do them good, He would set His eyes on them to punish them. And after the Israelites came into the good land that God promised them, they forgot His warning. They turned aside to worship idols. God sent them many prophets to warn them of the destruction that was coming, and to cease from their rebellion against Him.

 

But they didn’t listen. And so in Lamentations, Jeremiah wanders through the ruined city that had once exulted in God’s favor and bragged of His presence. He mourns over the city’s destruction. “The Lord determined to lay in ruins the wall of the daughter of Zion; He stretched out the measuring line…” (Lamentations 2:9). God was calculating and measuring with precision not to build Jerusalem up but to destroy it. Jeremiah watches children die in the arms of their mothers, because after the invading armies have ransacked the city, there is no food.

 

Destruction came upon Jerusalem because of the sin of the people. They should have known that this was the inevitable result of their sin. But they chose to believe false prophets who told them that the day of destruction would not come. “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.” (Lamentations 2:14)

 

What happened in Jerusalem is coming for everyone who transgresses the commandments of God. Destruction is coming on the world because of sin.

 

And not only because of the sins we know and willingly do, but also because of those we don’t know, and those which we can’t help. The sin we were born in, that we inherited from Adam, is going to be rewarded with destruction. The sins of our hearts that we try to suppress—unbelieving thoughts, evil desires, hatred and desire for vengeance, pleasure in our neighbor’s downfall—are going to be visited with eternal punishment.

 

In other words, things cannot go on like this! Our sins must be removed, otherwise all we have in front of us is the fearful and certain destruction that God will bring on all the ungodly. The emptiness of the altar and chancel tonight—its desolation—is a faint reflection of the eternal desolation that is to come on the world and all who commit iniquity.

 

But let us turn our attention again to the second set of readings, from St. John. There Jesus, as we said before, is experiencing desolation. He is experiencing the judgment of God on sin.

 

As He hangs on the cursed tree of the cross, He cries out, “I thirst.”

 

Of course, Jesus is thirsty. Dying people often experience great thirst. And besides the fact that He is dying, Jesus has other reasons for His thirst. He has been up all night and all morning laboring for our salvation. He prayed and wept in Gethsemane, and sweat like great drops of blood fell from His body. He was arrested and marched to the house of the high priest, some miles away, enduring blows and curses. Then all night He was accused by false witnesses, by the assembled elders of His people, and by the chief priests, until at last they declared Him to be worthy of death. He then was handed over to Pilate and accused and interrogated before Him. He stood in front of a crowd that screamed for Him to be crucified. He was mocked by the entire troop of Roman soldiers. He was torn open with whips and crowned with thorns. Finally they forced Him to carry the heavy cross to the Place of a Skull. There His hands and feet were nailed to the wood and they lifted Him up to hang from those nails. It is no surprise that Jesus is thirsty after that ordeal, no surprise that as His blood pours out He is seized with thirst.

 

But of course Jesus’ thirst is not merely a physical thirst. It is a spiritual thirst, the thirst of one being consumed in the heat of the wrath of God. In Luke 16 we are told the story of the rich man and Lazarus; Lazarus lived covered with sores and racked with hunger, but when he died, the angels carried him to the bosom of Abraham. But the rich man in Jesus’ parable died and went to hell. And there in the flames, he cried out for Lazarus to come to him and touch his tongue with a drop of water, so severe was his thirst and agony in the flames of hell.

 

Jesus, God’s Son, also experiences this thirst on the cross. Though He was innocent and had done nothing to deserve God’s wrath, He was experiencing the torments of the damned. God’s eternal destruction was upon Him.

 

Destruction had come upon Jesus because He was offering Himself there for our transgressions.

 

Jesus has another thirst parching Him on the cross. It is the thirst caused by His love for us. He loves us, and because He loves us He thirsts for our salvation. He thirsts that we might be saved from the destruction coming on the world because of sin.

 

In Jesus’ heart burns an unquenchable fire that causes this thirst. It is the fire of divine love; the fire that burned the bush on Sinai but did not consume it; the fire that later set the mountain ablaze. That fire does not burn against us but for us; it burns in Jesus’ heart, and it causes Him to thirst for our salvation. And this thirst will not be quenched until He has rescued us from destruction.

 

This fire that is burning in Jesus’ heart is described in the Song of Solomon: “Love is as strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7) Solomon is not talking about the love of a man for his wife. He is talking about the love of the heavenly bridegroom, Jesus Christ, for His bride, the Church. The very flame of God burns in Jesus’ heart and drives His thirst for our salvation.

 

“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride,” says the Bridegroom in the Song of Solomon to His beloved. Jesus, the bridegroom of the Church, has had His heart wounded and stolen by those who have deserved destruction. He will not be satisfied until He has freed His beloved bride from destruction. It is for this that He thirsts.

 

And so it is not the drink of sour wine that Jesus receives that quenches this thirst. His thirst is quenched when destruction is removed from His bride, the elect. And that happens when, after receiving the drink from the sponge, He says “It is finished,” and gives up His spirit in death.

 

There His thirst is quenched. What He thirsted for—our salvation—is finished, completed.

 

But how can that be true? Just as Jesus experienced the fire of divine love burning in His heart, we experience the fire of evil desire still strongly glowing in ours. How can our salvation be accomplished and our destruction be averted when sin seems so often to still hold us captive?

 

In the readings still ahead of us, from the tenth chapter of Hebrews, the author tells us about the futility and weakness of the sacrifices offered in the temple in the Old Testament. “The Law…can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?” (Hebrews 10:1-2)

 

Each year on the day of atonement, the high priest would bring blood behind the veil, into the most holy place, and put it on the atonement cover, or mercy seat, of the ark of the covenant. That mercy seat was the place of God’s dwelling on earth. And yet the sacrifice was repeated yearly. The blood continued to be put on the mercy seat because each year the people of Israel had new sins to atone for. And the writer of Hebrews tells us, there was no way for these sacrifices to make the people perfect or complete or “finished.” They were never completely through with their sins. Their sins were never finally gone.

 

In the end, this was because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4). An animal’s life, an animal’s soul, is not sufficient to remove the sins of a human being and save him from destruction.

 

And so the yearly sacrifice of atonement didn’t give people a clean conscience.

 

But on the cross Jesus is offering a better sacrifice, one that really is sufficient to cancel our sins. When Jesus suffers and dies on the cross, it is not merely a human being suffering agony and then dying. God is hanging on the cross; God suffers anguish; God dies. When Jesus’ blood is poured out and His life is given, a greater price has been paid than all the debt of your sins—a greater price than the cost of the sins of the whole world. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); the due reward for your sin is eternal death. But Jesus has paid more than enough to ransom and release you from eternal death; more than enough to ransom the whole world. His death and the shedding of His blood have removed sin.

 

Not as though sin no longer lives and works in you. But it is no longer counted before God, because it has been paid for by the death of Jesus.

 

That is the reason why those who believe in Jesus are no longer burdened with the consciousness of sin so that we need new sacrifices to be offered for us. It’s not that we don’t experience our sinful desires or see how we stumble and fall into sin. It’s that we believe that the blood Jesus shed and the death He died cancels and covers all our sin—the sin of our past, the sin that lives in us now, and the all the sin that we will commit before we, too, give up our spirits in death.

 

On Sunday morning, in Bible class, I have often asked the class whether they have experienced what it is to have a disturbed conscience, a conscience that is uncertain because it is aware of sin and God’s wrath against it. It seems that almost everyone there not only has experienced it, but many continue to experience it often.

 

Through the death of Jesus God wants to give us a restful, peaceful conscience; not a conscience that thinks that it no longer sins, but a conscience that is at rest because it believes and is confident that by His one offering Jesus has put our sins away from God’s sight forever.

 

That is what Jesus said before He died: It is finished. There is no more price to be paid for sins. There is nothing left to be done to save us from destruction. All is accomplished when Jesus gives up His spirit.

 

And the tenth chapter of Hebrews echoes these words of Jesus. It says that although God commanded the sacrifices of the Old Testament, they were never really His will, His lasting will. Jesus came to accomplish God’s will; not to sacrifice many animals, but to make one sacrifice—to offer up His own body and blood to God. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:10)—we have been made holy and set apart for God by the one sacrifice of Jesus.

 

And again: For by a single offering Jesus has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:14). Jesus has perfected us, completed us. He has finished us by a single offering, the offering of Himself. No, we think, how are we perfected? How are we finished? It is finished, Jesus said, and then died. The turning away of the Father’s wrath, the reconciliation of God with us, the covering of our sin, our being counted righteous, or justified—all finished, completed, perfected, when Jesus is delivered over to death.

 

Finally: “The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us, for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’ then He adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’ Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10: 15-18)

 

The reason there is no longer any offering for sin is not because Christians no longer sin. It is because, as the LORD promised through the prophet Jeremiah, He “remembers our sins and lawless deeds no more.” The Lord is not forgetful. He does not remember them because they have been paid for by Jesus. The Lord indeed puts His laws on our hearts and writes them in our minds, and yet, nonetheless, that doesn’t enable us to keep His laws without sin. But as the writer of Hebrews points out, the inscription of the Law on our hearts is not the whole of the New Testament. He writes His laws in our hearts and minds and begins to sanctify us in this life. But our justification, the blotting out of our sins from before God’s eyes, is not simply begun now. It is completed. It is finished. And as a result, there is no longer any offering for sin.

 

Destruction is still coming on the world because of sin. The day is far spent and evening is at hand. The world has grown old, and as it ages it is not becoming better but more wicked. Judgment looms. It appears to glower over us too. The end of our lives is before us. And when it comes, it will look and feel the same as it does for the rest of the world—not like a happy day, but a day of mourning. It will not look like the day of our salvation, but the day of our destruction. It will not appear to be light but darkness.

 

In the Tenebrae service tonight the candles are halfway out. When we have sung the Benedictus they will all be extinguished except the one in the center. Then that one too will be taken from its stand. The Church will become totally dark, just as everything became dark for Jesus’ disciples when His body was taken down from the cross, wrapped in the cloth with spices, placed in the tomb, and sealed in with a heavy stone.

 

Likely when we die that is what our eyes will see and our senses will experience at the ending of our lives—darkness.

 

But as the lights go out and the darkness descends, Jesus’ words from the cross will sustain us: It is finished. With those words, like Moses, we will enter the thick darkness where God is (Exodus 20: 21), and in the darkness the light will dawn on us (Luke 1: 79), because by one sacrifice Christ has perfected us before His Father.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Soli Deo Gloria

When it All Falls Apart. Good Friday, Tenebrae 2015

grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood Friday—Tenebrae

St. Peter Lutheran Church

Lamentations 1

April 3, 2015

“When it all falls apart.”

Iesu iuva

How lonely sits the city

That was full of people!

How like a widow she has become

She who was great among the nations!

She who was a princess among the provinces

Has become a slave.

 

The city is a charred ruin, smoking, full of ashes. The walls have been broken down. Dead bodies lie scattered on the streets, cut open by swords, burned with fire, emaciated by hunger. Here and there someone passes by wailing over lost loved ones, covering their nose to escape the stench. And at the top of the hill overlooking the city one fire still burns. The pride and joy of Jerusalem, the temple of the Lord, is on fire. The enemy soldiers have stripped it of all its precious things—its gold and silver, its furnishings. They have marched into the holy place, into the very presence of the Lord, and desecrated the sanctuary. Now they are gone, leaving behind the fire and smoke as the temple of the Lord burns to its foundations.

This is what Jeremiah is writing about in Lamentations. It is hard for us to grasp how terrible a fall the city of Jerusalem endured in the days around 500 B.C. It was one of those things that no one believes will happen until it does, one of those things that we imagine God won’t allow.

Jerusalem was a princess, a queen among cities. She had been honored by the God of the whole earth when He put His temple there. This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it (Psalm 132:14).

What happened? The princess has become a slave, a mourning widow. Her streets are deserted and her glory has departed. Her young men have been massacred and taken away as slaves. The women have been carted off. The city is a smoldering ruin. How did this happen to God’s most-favored city?

The princess among the provinces became a harlot. The queen became a whore. Jerusalem multiplied sin and rebellion against God. She turned aside to false gods and walked in the ways that seemed right in her sight instead of obeying the law of the Lord.

Jerusalem sinned grievously

Therefore she became filthy.

All who honored her despise her

For they have seen her nakedness.

She herself groans

And turns her face away.

 

Her uncleanness was in her skirts

She took no thought of her future,

Therefore her fall is terrible

She has no comforter.

“O Lord, behold my affliction

For the enemy has triumphed.”

 

This is what happens when we receive the wages for our sins. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6). Dear Christians, we never get away with our sins. We always reap their bitter harvest. The Lord our God is a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Him. The Lord in the midst of Jerusalem, in our midst, is a just and righteous God. He does not play favorites. When His own people sin and are unfaithful to Him, He judges them, even if they are called by His name and have His holy things in the midst of them.

The destruction of Jerusalem is a picture of our own personal calamities that come upon us because of our sins. Our lives fall apart. Our plans fail. Our spouse leaves. We are laid at the gates of death. How often do these things happen because we have rebelled against the Lord? Even when they happen with no apparent sin of ours, there are always sins in us which God must chasten.

And what happens in individual lives because of sin often happens among groups of people; churches come under God’s judgment too. Didn’t it strike a little close to home to hear

The roads to Zion mourn

For none come to the festival

All her gates are desolate

Her priests groan…

 

Doesn’t that sound more than a little familiar? Why are the pews vacant on the festival days of the church year? Why do we not hear the sounds of children in this once burgeoning congregation? Why do we bury so many and baptize so few? Can it be that God’s judgment is not in these things at all?

And when God’s judgment comes, the false gods which we turned to for comfort become useless. They provide no relief from the punishment of God. The friends and helpers we looked to desert us or turn out to be our enemies.

But the visitations of God’s judgment that come upon us in this life are not the greatest things to fear. When we experience judgment from God in this life He is calling us to repentance. Though our fall may be grievous there is still hope, because our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103).

What is to be feared is the final judgment of God that will come upon unbelievers and hypocrites, that is, false believers. Then there will be no more comfort, only weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the fall is irreversible. God will no longer comfort or restore but cast away forever those who did not repent and believe in Christ.

That indeed is the due, proper, and just reward for our sins—not only for our conscious rebellion against God but for the sin in which we were born and which dwells within us. Not simply to have our plans and pleasures taken away for a time, but to be forever cast away and rejected from God’s face. That is truly what we deserve for having served other gods like a harlot. And that is most certainly what we will receive for our sins unless we repent—an eternity of desolation, terror, grief, and pain with no hope of relief.

When the lights are put out at this Tenebrae service, it is a picture of the extinguishing of hope that is the due reward for our sins.

Is it nothing, all you who pass by?

Look and see

If there is any sorrow like my sorrow

Which was brought upon me,

Which the Lord inflicted

On the day of His fierce anger.

 

What can we say to this?

The Lord is in the right

For I have rebelled against His Word.

 

But our God does not forsake us in the day of our calamity, in the day of desolation, in the day of judgment, the way that false gods do. When we are soiled and unclean like a harlot, the Lord does not abandon us.

Instead He becomes like we are. Our misery and sorrow becomes His misery and sorrow. He proposes marriage to us in the depths of our destruction, at the bottom of our fall.

Look and see

If there is any sorrow like my sorrow

Which was brought upon me,

Which the Lord inflicted

On the day of His fierce anger.

 

Jesus has taken those words out of our mouths and put them in His own. The terrible sorrow of being forsaken by God, of being swallowed up by the darkness, is His. He redeems us from the pit of despair and hell by going down into it Himself. He loves us when we are ruined. He takes our ruin upon Himself.

As the lights are put out during the Tenebrae service, we are reminded that it is not we who are brought to nothing and destroyed by our sins. It is our Lord Jesus. We are not forsaken to the darkness of hell. He is, when He cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

He is brought to nothing and destroyed for our sins. He is ruined for us, and then raised from the dead for us.

When it all falls apart, this is what holds us together, or better, what brings us back from the dead.

We are all falling apart. We are dying. The ugliness of sin can’t be hidden forever. Sooner or later it shows itself in all of us—in the lines in our faces, in the aching of our bones. We can’t escape the judgment of God. It catches up to us, and shows us to be what we are—sinners doomed to death.

But in the midst of chastisement for our sins, in the midst of our lives falling apart, in the midst of our dying, the broken, ruined form of Jesus on the cross gives us hope. A living hope that does not perish, spoil, or fade.

The Lord has taken our destruction as His own. His light was put out. Then His invincible life overcame the darkness. His righteousness overcame our sin. He rose from the dead.

Everything is not going to get better in this world. This world is judged, condemned, and this judgment comes over us too.

But life is ours in the midst of this judgment. When everything is falling apart, we belong to the one who has already gone to the lowest depths, the deepest darkness, and risen into eternal brightness and joy.

Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

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